2011 World Championships—Doubles
Here’s a brief account of the three Doubles Championships—all won of course by the Chinese whose domination of the sport is not likely to end.
In the one Men’s Doubles semi, China’s Ma Long/Xu Xin defeated South Korea’s Kim Min Sook (World #35)/Jung Young Sik (#63). South Korean Coach Yoo Nam Kyu, 1988 Olympic Gold Medal winner, had these two (less talented than their Joo/Oh/Ryu/Lee teammates?) playing out of their minds. Look at Yoo close up on the big screen giving advice to his players and his intensity shows in his owl-like eyes. The Koreans went down in six games. But point after point after point they battled the favored Chinese in great angled-off topspin exchanges—as good as anything you’d see here in Rotterdam, the “City of Sports.”
In the other semi, China’s Ma Lin/Chen Qi took out Wang Hao/Zhang Jike, 4-2, also with some fleet-footed acrobatic exchanges and off-the-bounce winners. Wang/Zhang won the first when, down 10-8, Chen misserved. But then the Ma Team won three straight. Only again, this time when down 10-9 in the fifth, Chen misserved again, then dropped his head as if to say, How could I be so careless? But at 4-all in the sixth he served off again, and Ma showed his (What the…) concern. With his team up 10-8 double-match point, Ma went back on defense and sidespinned in a winner. Then he let out quite a cheer for himself on being so clever.
In the final, Chen—who’d ever seen the like-- opened by serving into the net yet again! Which led to an 11-3 loss for the Ma Lin Team. In the second game, down 5-4, Chen pushed his serve return into the net, then from 6-all he missed a shot badly. Down 10-8, Ma Lin put his serve return into the net. But in the third, the Ma Lin team won five in a row before Chen again netted his serve return; then they won another five in a row. In the fourth, the Ma Long pair was up 5-1 when Ma Lin flipped his racket to the table and went for his towel. Closing down 7-4, 8-4, 9-4, 10-4, 11-4, Chen took some ridiculous shots. Ma Long/Xu Xin were now ahead 3-1 in games. In early play in the fifth, both teams produced incredible points for real that looked much like those in a highly professional choreographed exhibition. To no one’s surprise who’d watched this match, the Ma Long pair, 11-7 in the fifth, were the Champs.
In the one Women’s Doubles semi, Guo Yue/Li Xiaoxia blanked South Korea’s much-in-tandem defenders Kim Kyung Ah/Park Mi Young, 4-0. Earlier, though, Guo and Li had gotten off to a shaky two-games-down start against teammates Feng Yalan/Mu Zi who, after the play had evened up, again went ahead in games 3-2. During this fierce-swing fight, the players debated an edge ball—it was the first time I’d ever seen that happen in an all-China match—one in which of course no Chinese coach could be involved vying with another. For some time the players didn’t know what to do—neither team seemed willing to concede the point to the other. Finally they acceded to the umpire’s decision and insistence that they move on. In the other semi, China’s Ding Ning/Guo Yan stopped Hong Kong’s Tie Yana/Jiang Huajun, 12-10 in the fourth before they had a chance to consequentially rally.
In the final, Guo and Li did a lot of squealy screeching from 7-8 down to 11-8 up, and on to a 7-1 lead in the second. In the third, the players were involved in a deuce game when Guo and Li delayed play as they carried on a private-ear conversation. Whether this was strategic or just a show of oh-so-serious rhetoric for the audience I leave to your imagination. But the umpire rightly interrupted them, told them to play. And they did…to embrace after a four-game win.
In the one Mixed Doubles semi, China’s Zhang Chan/Cao Zhen defeated Cheung Yuk/Jiang Huajun, 4-1. Cao had the distinction of being the first player—man or woman—to win a Pro Tour tournament the first time she entered one. In the Malaysian Open some years back, she came up via qualifying matches to win the Singles. In the other semi, China’s Hao Shuai/Mu Zi, after being challenged 4-2 by Belarus defenders Evgueni Chtchetinine/Viktoria Pavlovich, swept through bronze medalists Japan’s Seiya Kishikawa/Ai Fukuhara, 4-0. Mu, coached by Kong Linghui, had been the 2009 Mixed runner-up with Zhang Jike, the Men’s Singles winner here. It was the Koreans, though—both North and South—who put up the most inspired resistance. Having reached adjacent quarter’s in the bottom half of the draw, both teams knew, especially the North Koreans who didn’t have to play their quarter’s against the Chinese, that they had this one golden opportunity to win, well, if not the gold, a medal. But the Hong Kong pair, left-handed, left ear-ringed Cheung Yuk (#57) and Jiang Huajun (#20), were—more on paper than in the play— too 11-8-in-the-seventh strong for Kim Hyok Bong (#94) and Kim Jong (#50). Meanwhile, in the companion quarter’s, Zhang/Cao -6, 7, -8, 4, 5, -15, 6 advanced over the die-hard South team of Seo Hyun Deok (#42)/Seok Ha Jung (#18).
The Arena was pretty much dead for the all-Chinese final. Zhang/Cao (both unranked) won the first three games, which didn’t enliven the crowd—and the last two games were split. Cao, 24, was hyped as the new kind of outgoing, exuberant Chinese woman , so different from former superstar Zhang Yining, for example, who’s now in the States taking Sports-related courses at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Actually, as this match ended…10-8…11-8, it was the reserved 26-year-old unranked Zhang Chan who was loudly yelling—after which he embraced the smiling Cao. “Zhang was the perfect partner,” she said, all bubbly.